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Quel takes aim at big two

Willie Mullins is expecting a bold show from Quel Esprit when the exciting grey takes on big two Long Run and Kauto Star in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old has put a chequered history behind him this season with three straight victories culminating in the Grade One Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, in which he had another of the Cheltenham runners, China Rock, well behind in fifth.

"He's earned himself a tilt at the Gold Cup and we're just hoping. We've always thought a fair bit of him and were disappointed last year with two falls and a brought down, but I think he is improving and it looks that way this year," said Mullins, who has never won a Gold Cup.

"If my lad keeps improving it would be great to get in the place money, and you never know what happens on the day. We wouldn't be worried about stamina and I don't think we are worried about jumping. He'll be up there from the beginning and we'll hope for the best."

Mouse Morris, victorious in the 2006 Gold Cup with War Of Attrition, saddles China Rock, who was in the process of running a big race 12 months ago before he got injured.

The trainer said: "He's ready to run and there's some good place money to pick up. I was a little bit disappointed with his run in the Hennessy in Leopardstown as he looked like the winner two out, but he's a different horse on this better ground.

"At the time I thought he must have just blown up, but he actually scoped badly afterwards with a low-grade lung infection and still wasn't beaten that far on the day. If he can finish fourth, fifth or sixth, I'll be happy."

Jonjo O'Neill won the Gold Cup as a rider on Dawn Run, and saddled Exotic Dancer to be second behind Kauto Star in 2007. This year he is responsible for Lexus Chase winner Synchronised.

He said: "I'd have liked to have got another run into him in the Irish Hennessy, but he's been coming along really well. He'd like rain, but you can't say he's got anything better than a sporting chance."

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